PopMark Media/Studio Unknown’s Confessions of a Small Working Studio: Darlene Love, Worth the Wait

May 12, 2011 6:42 PM, By Lisa Horan

Photo Alan Mercer

Wouldn’t life be so much easier if the things we wanted came easily? Of course, but we wouldn’t have good stories to tell, would we? This month, we bring you one such story. A woman with more perseverance and determination than most people half her age. A woman who has endured more than 50 years in the music industry and has overcome disappointments that assuredly would have dissuaded even those with the strongest of constitutions from continuing. But Darlene Love is anything but ordinary. Coming up on her 70th birthday, she is an example that endurance pays off, cream does rise to the top and what goes around, comes around—finally. 



FAST TRACK TO THE UNKNOWN

In spite of the fact that Rolling Stone called her “one of the greatest singers of all time,” and the New York Times compared her voice’s impact on rock 'n' roll to Eric Clapton’s guitar playing, Love is not a household name, though her voice has certainly been gracing homes across America since the 1960s. Given the way Love’s career started, one would have bet that she was destined for widespread acclaim, and fast, but you could liken her journey to that of a fine wine. 



Love was discovered as a teenager while singing in the church choir and was asked to join a newly forming all-girl singing group, The Blossoms. Soon after, producer Phil Spector, who was making quite a name for himself in the industry at that time, began producing the group. Spector was enamored with Love’s voice, not only because of its amazing flexibility, range and power, but also because it held qualities that were perfect for the types of songs that were popular at the time: songs about emotional experiences. He has even been quoted as calling Love a “godsend.” 



It’s no surprise that the plan was for Love and The Blossoms to sing background vocals for other groups produced under the Phil Spectrum umbrella but eventually become a featured act. It seemed like a sure bet, but the music industry is a fickle creature and only part of that promise was fulfilled. Love certainly sang her share of backup—on countless songs such as “Johnny Angel,” “Da Doo Ron Ron,” “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’” and “Be My Baby,” to name just a few. She even sang lead on the hit son “He’s a Rebel.” The problem was, she wasn’t getting credit. On “He’s a Rebel,” for instance, the label credited The Crystals, an existing group that was located in New York. The L.A.-based Spector was anxious to get the song cut because he believed it would be a hit, so he had Love and The Blossoms—who were in California—record the song. In the end, though, he gave The Crystals the credit because he thought the song would only become a hit if it had been linked to that group. The song did become a hit, but no one outside of the recording studio knew it was Love’s vocals that were, in part, responsible. Needless to say, the situation left her frustrated, angry and disappointed. At the same time, she still believed she would just pay her dues and everything would work out.



For a time, it did. During the course of 10 years, Love would not only have the opportunity to travel the world, but she would work with an unbelievable list of music greats, including Elvis Presley, Sam Cooke, Dionne Warwick, Aretha Franklin, Bill Withers, the Beach Boys, Jan & Dean and Sonny & Cher, to name just a few. But the music industry was in for a dramatic change, as the British Invasion was about to take America by storm. On top of that, Spector was dragging Love along a windy road that seemed to lead to nowhere. And he wasn’t about to let go. When outside writers like Burt Bacharach and Brian Wilson approached Spector to ask if they could work with Love or encourage him to record her, the answer was always the same: “No.” Not surprisingly, Love felt trapped. She knew she had the talent, but she wasn’t getting the opportunities from within her record company, and the company refused to release her to allow her to work with others.

“It was an extremely difficult time that really wore on me,” recalls Love. “I remember once when I was in Holland with Dionne Warwick, and I had been working on a recording project, but my lawyer was still negotiating details. He called to tell me that the negotiations weren’t going well and that I had to pack my bags and come home. Naturally, I was devastated, but I will never forget what Dionne said to me: ‘Don’t let the hate against them take you where they are and do what they do. Don’t let them push your buttons.’ That meant so much. Once I realized that I had the choice about whether to give them power over me or not, my perspective totally changed. I often reflect on this advice when I’m faced with difficult situations.” And difficult situations were, indeed, up ahead.






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